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Our Father

“We do not know how to pray” (Romans 8:26).  The whole uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth lies in this: that he knows how to pray, because he knows to whom he is speaking.  His greatest miracle was not healing or walking on water or driving out devils, but teaching his followers to say our Father.

—   Benjamin Myers, Salvation in My Pocket

—— 

This afternoon I did a bit of an inventory of recent encounters with the Lord’s Prayer. 

An afternoon meeting with a gathering of clergy.  We’re a bit of a mixed bag.  High church, low church, paedo-baptist, believers baptist, tran- con- and non-substantiationists, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Baptist, United, Mennonite… Rivers of ink and blood have been spilt over the things our traditions have historically found to disagree about.  We don’t worry much about those things today, though.  We munch on goodies and drink coffee and discuss happier matters.  And when our meeting ends, we bow our heads and pray, with one voice.  Our father…

Wednesday evening Bible Study.  The same faithful few come out, week after week.  We sit around a plastic table in the church basement.  It’s chilly this time of year.  We pray for each other.  We open our Bibles—clunky KJVs, impressive looking study Bibles, inspirational Bibles with flowery covers and speculative translations… And we read.  Some read slowly, some read quickly.  We talk about what this strange book might mean.  Sometimes no one talks and we just sit in silence, looking at each other.  We talk and we look at each other until 8:00 sharp, because 8:00 is snack time.  But before snack time, we stand up, we join hands, and we pray, with one voice.  Our father…

Prayer time during Sunday worship.  Sometimes the words I come up with seem so woefully inadequate.  The same tired phrases, over and over.  The same clichés, the same stock churchy words that people have heard again and again.  My words don’t seem up to the task of either plumbing the depths of human sorrow or bearing witness to the stupefying goodness of God.  So I mumble along for a few minutes.  I try to cover the bases.  I try to hang on long enough to get to the end, because at the end I sometimes get to say words like “As Jesus taught us to pray…”  And then, mercifully, it’s not longer about my words any more.  Then it’s about our words.  The words Jesus taught us.  Then we get to pray together, with one voice.  Our father…

I was at a funeral a few days ago.  It was in a church but it wasn’t a churchy funeral at all.  The deceased didn’t seem to have much obvious interest in God or religion and if the uneasy and uncertain looks of a good number of those in attendance were anything to go by, neither did many others.  There were acknowledgments that “a church probably feels pretty weird to many of you.”  Pop songs played over the sound system.  There was a botched picture montage and a heartbreaking tear-soaked eulogy.

But Jesus hardly made an appearance.  Jesus was at the back, out of view, opening wide his arms and the doors of his church for all these uneasy, uncertain mourners.  Jesus was the gracious host, keeping silent vigil while the tears and the memories flowed.  Jesus was content to stay mostly in the background.  Until a funny thing happened.  Right near the end, the pastor says, could we pray the Lord’s Prayer together?  All of us?  Right now?  Oh no, I think…What is he doing?  Doesn’t he know that the mourners are uneasy and uncertain about all this church business?  Doesn’t he know that Jesus stays in the background at this kind of funeral?  Doesn’t he…

But wait.  What’s this?

Our father, who art in heaven…

The church is packed… But it sounds like one voice…

Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven…

How do they know the words?  I look in vain on the bulletin for a printout.  Jesus, how do they know?  Did you teach them?  How do they know to want your will to be done on earth as in heaven?

Give us this day our daily bread…

I’m praying with them now… One voice… We know that we need you God, even if we don’t know why or how…

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

We don’t know what we are doing, you see… This is such a hard old place, this world where people get sick and die… Yes, we trespass against each other, but in our better moments we don’t want to… Forgive us…

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… 

Oh God, you know how often temptation finds us… You know how often we give in… You know how we actively seek it out.  So deliver us from evils within and without… This dying business hurts us so, but when we are forced to face it, we sense that maybe we were made for more than the small and petty things we so often settle for…

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours….

Yes. Yours alone.  Not ours, for we know that everything we love, everything we touch just fades away… Things don’t last… always fading away.  But we are yours, even if we don’t know how to be yours  or how to want your kingdom…

Forever.

Forever.  Far past all of this dying and fading away.

Amen.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Tanya #

    Thank you Ryan.

    February 12, 2014

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